Clearwater Beach Community Can Do
By Vicki Jackson
Residents and members of the Clearwater Beach Association (CBA) had an opportunity to voice some of their concerns to representatives of the City of Clearwater at the CBA Board meeting this month. It began with a brief summary of recent adverse activity, given by Sergeant Thomas Fisherkeller, of the Police Department. He felt "things were going pretty good," but again reminded residents to roll up the windows on their vehicles, lock the doors, and hide their GPS equipment too.
When questions from the audience were invited, the topic quickly focused on the "No Parking" signs recently installed on some of the side streets of North Clearwater Beach. When asked if they were finished with the signs, the Sergeant advised that those questions could be directed to Paul Bertels, City Traffic Operations Manager, but the discussion didn't stop there.
A long-time resident lamented that as a result of the installation of those signs neighbors are being inconvenienced for the whole year. Instead of the "knee-jerk" solution to alleviate a temporary hazardous parking situation, she wondered if there might be a better plan. For instance, could such signs be placed on a temporary basis during the anticipated high-activity dates, such as the predictable five weeks of Spring Break, and then removed. Though all present were in agreement about the serious safety issues caused by parking on both sides of narrow streets, there was no consensus about the dates or means of parking restrictions or prohibitions.
City of Clearwater Public Information Coordinator, C. Eric Wilson, attempted to clarify the rules for parking on the street versus parking on private property. A street violation would result in Police issuing a ticket, while the latter would be a code enforcement issue. To that end, he urged residents to call and get it documented.
The discussion shifted to ongoing problems of short-term rentals on North Beach, when Michael Delk, Planning Department Director for the City, was introduced. He said if citizens will report a specific abuse situation, the Department will go out and check the suspected address. Furthermore, there is a now a scheduled rotation of officials so that even weekends are covered to monitor code compliance.
CBA member, Anne Garris, said, "The way our new code works is we no longer have variances, but flexible standards." She asked, "What do you have to give back to the community to qualify for the flexibility? What is the community getting in return, not just what is in keeping with the future plan for the beach?"
In response, Mr. Delk outlined the three levels of flexibility, from 'over the counter' to payment of fees, and on to extended staff and committee review. Site plan approval might include requirements for improved landscape, architectural design changes, and justification of other criteria. He maintains that the City has "a higher standard than surrounding jurisdictions"
Resident, Lois Davis, asked, "What is the procedure the Department follows when investigating illegal short-term rentals?" Clearwater Vice Mayor John Doran offered details of the "criteria approved by the City Council," such as a history of payment of the tourist tax, registration with the state, federal income tax documentation, and testimony regarding the short-term rental basis.
Following a brief interruption from a North Beach resident that popped in to assert his concerns about drugs and alcohol in the neighborhood, Mr. Doran continued. "I wish he had stuck around. There's a new Chief in town and things are different." He referred to the new policies of recently appointed City of Clearwater Chief of Police, Anthony "Tony" Holloway: 1) Evaluate, 2) Educate, and 3) Enforce. In addition, there is a new Crime Analysis Unit comprised of volunteers, staff, and a Police Lieutenant. They regularly review everything that happens, including reports, arrests, and even check all pawn shop records.
The same message of communication applies to the parking situation, short-term rental issues, code and other violations. Compliance is complaint-driven. Inadvertently, Mr. Wilson, City Public Communications, summarized the recurring theme of the evening. He said the community should provide information, thus partnering with the Chief of Police to make the Department more efficient. He said if people will call in or e-mail a problem and get it in the system, there's a better chance to do something about it. Together, we can do something.
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